Chicago Cubs: Carl Edwards Jr. continues to impress in 2018

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Carl Edwards Jr. went from a 48th round pick seven years ago to an elite reliever for the Chicago Cubs. Now, in 2018 he’s posting some incredible numbers.

Chicago Cubs’ reliever Carl Edwards Jr. is the ultimate MLB success story. Not many 48th round draft picks make it to the higher reaches of the minor leagues let alone the major leagues. Furthermore, many do not find the amount of success that Edwards has thus far in his career.

Despite being the 1,464th player selected in the 2011 draft, Edwards rose through the minor league fairly quickly aided by his 155 strikeouts in 116 1/3 innings pitched and 1.86 ERA in 2013. It was that success, in part, that motivated the Cubs to include Edwards to trade talks with the Texas Rangers, ultimately landing the right-hander in the Matt Garza trade in 2013.

After two seasons of posting sub-3.00 ERA’s in Double-A and Triple-A, Edwards grabbed a cup of coffee with Chicago in 2015. It was not until the 2016 season that Edwards earned an opportunity to show the Cubs’ front office what he could do. In 36 appearances and as many innings, Edwards logged 52 strikeouts and held opposing hitters to a .121 batting average. The right-hander also amassed a strikeout rate of 37.7% and a BABIP of .162.

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Edwards finds his groove in 2017

A year after solidifying his role as a late-inning man in Joe Maddon‘s bullpen, Edwards was primed for his first full season in a big league uniform. The 25-year-old got off to a great start, posting a 0.00 ERA in ten innings pitched in April. Edwards carried that success into the All-Star break. He posted a 2.29 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .129 batting average in 35 1/3 innings before the break.

Post-All-Star was a different story for the right-hander. Edwards posted a stable, yet high, 3.77 ERA following the break. That number was not helped by the 6.35 ERA Edwards posted in August after allowing eight earned runs and seven walks over 11 1/3 innings pitched.

Despite his rough second half, Edwards still turned in a solid 2017 campaign. The youngster appeared in a career-high 73 games and worked 66 1/3 innings. He posted a 2.98 ERA and struck out 94 batters while walking 38.

Edwards’ walk total meant that he averaged 5.16 walks per nine innings. That number is way too high for a late-inning reliever of Edwards’ caliber.

Edwards looks like an elite reliever thus far in 2018

A year removed from struggling late in the year, Edwards seems determined to cement himself as one of the game’s best relievers. So far, he is doing just that. In 16 appearances, Edwards has worked 17 innings, allowing just one run and seven hits. His 0.53 ERA is the fourth lowest among relievers in baseball right now and his 0.8 WAR is third best. To put that WAR figure into perspective, Edwards amassed a 0.9 WAR all of 2017.

Continuing with the trend, Edwards owns the fifth best K/9 among relievers at 15.88. To go along with that, Edwards also has the 22nd best left on base percentage at 93.3.

While Edwards may not be leading in this category, the right-hander has made strides in decreasing his walks. Currently, Edwards owns a BB/9 of 4.24 which is the second-best mark of his career and is below his career average of 4.57. Also, Edwards has a walk percentage of 12.1% so far this season, 2.4% lower than last year. To paint an even better picture, the difference between Edwards’ walk and strikeout percentage sits at 33.3%, by far the highest of his career.

How is Edwards getting the job done?

With Edwards entering his third season in the big leagues, we have a pretty good picture as to what he throws. Edwards features a four-seam fastball that has natural cutting action and sits in the mid-90’s. He pairs that with a nasty curveball that keeps hitters off-balance.

So far this season, Edwards is relying on his fastball much more compared to seasons past. Each of the last two seasons, Edwards threw his fastball around 70% of the time, mixing in his curveball around 30% of the time. This season, however, Edwards’ fastball usage is up to 77% while his curveball usage is down to 22%.

Looking at the numbers, and there may be a reason behind the uptick in heater usage. Edwards’ whiff percentage on his fastball is up to 22% from 14% a year ago and 16% two years ago. In addition to that, opposing batters are slugging just .163 against his fastball this season. That is a 73 point drop from last season.

The main reason for the success of his fastball this season is increased movement. So far this season, Edwards is getting 1.47 inches of horizontal movement on his fastball. That number is by far the highest of his career.

Edwards’ success is coming at the right time for the Cubs

It is no secret that the Cubs are struggling this season. Even though they just finished  a sweep of the Miami Marlins, the Cubs have yet to find consistency on the offensive side of the ball. To make matters worse, Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish have not jumped out to fast starts like many had hoped they would.

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All this has culminated in a 19-15 record and a spot in fourth place in the NL Central. While is not likely they will stay there as the season progresses, the success that Edwards has found this season does nothing but help the Cubs in their efforts to find consistency, on both sides of the ball.